People around the globe are acting like planks of wood for fun. But why would anyone want to do this, and what is planking anyway? Love it or loathe it, planking has reached Thailand.
Indie Market, Debuk Road, June 17, 8pm
LYING face-down on the sidewalk, his arms by his sides and legs outstretched, the boy remains motionless as the 200-strong crowd inches forward for a closer look.
The boy hasn’t moved a muscle for the past five minutes.
Pushing past loitering tourists and Thai families, four more boys drop to their knees and slump over face first in unison onto the hard ground. Cameras flash, a few gasps can be heard and somewhere in the distance a Thai man is bleating into a megaphone.
Five young bodies, lined up like sardines, their fingers and toes pointing straight, now lie motionless as more cameras flash.
There is something out of place in this scene. That something is laughter, and it’s what the five boys let out as they jump to their feet and dust themselves off.
This is planking, an activity where people lie down in weird places while being photographed and then post the photos to the Internet, namely Facebook.
This is the new thing for hipsters and schoolchildren to do on a Friday night in Phuket, and yes, it’s borderline idiotic, but at times amusing.
The five boy plankers are now back in the crowd high-fiving their friends, rearranging their contrived haircuts and sheepishly scanning the faces of the assembled crowd in search of approving looks. There is no immediate self-satisfaction in this pursuit, except pats on the back from their friends.
The Phuket Planking group is the name these boys and girls go by. Tonight’s mass-planking event is an organized session, put out on Facebook.
About 30 bodies now litter the ground of the bustling market. The appeal for onlookers is short-lived. Parents pushing prams and Singha-shirt wearing tourists pause for a moment to see the plankers.
They take a photo, laugh, show their partners, share a joke at the expense of the plankers and then move on. You can see some tourists mouthing the words “Why are they doing this?”
Good question. The plankers lie on the ground, their friends take a photo and then they stand up again. The lure may be lost on most of us, but it is not the immediate appeal that people are looking for, it’s the gratification of seeing their plank on the Internet later that night.
And herein lies the appeal of planking: It’s conversational ammunition for people to share on Facebook. It’s a talking point, something to brag about, or even a daring act to wow friends.
WHO ARE THE PLANKERS?
Developing a demographic profile of plankers is no easy feat on a world scale: a woman as old as 70 has been photographed planking. But here in Phuket it’s a pretty fair cross-section of university and high school students.
Thakesina Senkeaw, 23, a fourth year design and technology student from Rajabhat University is one member of the Phuket Planking group. He helps organize events and is the group’s dedicated photographer.
Thakesina and his university friends have been planking for the past two months.
Meeting every day, they goad each other into pulling off ever more outlandish planks. Thakesina doesn’t believe the pursuit is a waste of time. It can alter perceptions of what otherwise might appear as mundane places in plankers’ lives, he says.
“Planking adds to the memories you have of a place. Planking can make a normal place different for you. It can change the way you think of a part of town you know well.”
Thakesina said there are rules to be become a Phuket Planker.
“You have to be original with your plank. It has to be safe and you have to have fun.” Despite its current surge in popularity, the planking fad is destined to be short-lived in Phuket, he predicts.
“It came about very quickly, and it will die very quickly too…something new will come up to replace planking,” he says.
The “greatest plank” he has photographed so far was when a friend pulled a spontaneous plank during a conference with more than 3,000 people in attendance.
Wattana Wattanawithee, a 16-year-old high school student from Sapan Hin, was one of the five plankers at the start of our story. He beams as he recalls his planking exploits.
“It’s cool. It’s different. There are about 20 of us at school who plank,” he says.
The more people we speak to, the more it seems they want to promote planking. Of course, why else would they be here?
But enough from the young ones, what do the parents think?
Phuket resident and mother of two Katsama “Sai” Wandee was one of the faces in the crowd earlier. This is the first time she has seen planking. Her children, “Eyes”, 10, and “Oak”, 6, say they think it looks fun.
Katsama says she thinks it’s a strange activity for people to do.
“I saw it on TV last night. I don’t know what the meaning of it is, but as long as they don’t hurt anyone and it is not dangerous, I suppose it is okay.”
Another parent on the night, who refused to give his name, said planking is a “waste of time and should be treated as such.”
There a few people who agree with him on a world scale.
Facebook fuels planking. It is the catalyst and medium, the gatekeeper of the craze and its owner.
Planking has no reach without Facebook, no ability to enter our conscious and conversation, to leap over oceans and continents or become a part of our lives.
But every pop trend generates a backlash, and there are even “anti-planking” pages on Facebook now that harbor a predictable slew of like-minded people with like-minded comments about planking.
On the Facebook page Planking is F***ing Stupid, there is comment after comment of bickering between posters.
Most agree with the ethos of the page, which takes a pretty clear stance.
But others visit the site to post bizarre planking links from far off places, which is not to the liking of the anti-planking ethos.
Some links users’ post include: Animal Planking, Zen and the Art of Planking, Planking Sucks – Planking Is Not Funny At All, and even Baby Planking.
Here’s an example of how silly it all gets. One user posts a link on Planking is F***ing Stupid called “I Prefer The Upright Version Of Planking, It’s Called Standing” .
At the time of writing, the page had more than 53,000 “likes” from fans. Further down on this page, a 20-something looking girl posts the following comment: “I liked this page just so I could say, ‘Why do you guys care if people waste their time planking’? It might be pointless, But some people think it’s fun. A lot of people do it just to follow the crowd, it’ll pass. So chill.”
About 20 minutes later, the administrator of Planking is F***ing Stupid posts the following:
“You chill. I think it’s s**t, hence the page.”
Bla, bla, bla, eight more comments roll in with predictable, equally banal points of view. And so it goes on.
Post after post of youngsters squabbling over the rights and wrongs of planking. The self-perpetuating nature of their comments make them come back day after day for a slanging match about planking. This is the true nature of what planking stands for, and it isn’t pretty.
This thing they call planking. It is not just an activity, it’s more. It’s who you are and what side of the fence you stand – or lie – on for these kids. It’s a right to be heard on Facebook. A form of expression and a tool to show who they are and what they like. If you’re a planker, you belong to a group.
Posting photographs of plan
— Fraser Morton